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Old 12-24-2018, 06:15 PM   #1
dbtenner
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Default 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

Hello Ford Barn,

I'm needing some assistance. On Friday I drove my 1934 Roadster for at least an hour or two around town without any issues. Idling at stops, vacuum pressure, shifting and overall operation was just fine. Smooth sailing. Now this morning on Christmas Eve, I drove it around town for maybe 30 minutes and came to a stop at a stop sign (had a bump in the road). Downshifted to first gear and was ready to take off, shifted into second and then in the midst of going into third it died. Could not get it to start after that.

I have gone through the entire fuel delivery system draining the lines. Then cranking to make sure fuel is shown in the filter and consequently the carb. No problem with that. The battery is now dead aftre many attempts starting it. I had my brother try and crank it over earlier, and held a continuity tester on the coil (that goes on the spark plug). NO SPARK after he was hitting the starter.

Any ideas?? I doubt its the condenser or distributor related since I did not touch it. However I did take the side caps (going to the ignition coil) to see the points and then put it back in and closed the wire latch. Need some guidance please.
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Old 12-24-2018, 06:35 PM   #2
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

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Hello Ford Barn,

I'm needing some assistance. On Friday I drove my 1934 Roadster for at least an hour or two around town without any issues. Idling at stops, vacuum pressure, shifting and overall operation was just fine. Smooth sailing. Now this morning on Christmas Eve, I drove it around town for maybe 30 minutes and came to a stop at a stop sign (had a bump in the road). Downshifted to first gear and was ready to take off, shifted into second and then in the midst of going into third it died. Could not get it to start after that.

I have gone through the entire fuel delivery system draining the lines. Then cranking to make sure fuel is shown in the filter and consequently the carb. No problem with that. The battery is now dead aftre many attempts starting it. I had my brother try and crank it over earlier, and held a continuity tester on the coil (that goes on the spark plug). NO SPARK after he was hitting the starter.

Any ideas?? I doubt its the condenser or distributor related since I did not touch it. However I did take the side caps (going to the ignition coil) to see the points and then put it back in and closed the wire latch. Need some guidance please.
Quite possible that extended run time heat soaked the coil and/or condenser so no spark until things cool down. Get a couple long spark plug wires and a short length of clear vinyl tubing that the wires slide in snugly. Disconnect one plug wire from a plug and hook to one long wire and run it out of the hood where you can see it. Slide the end into the clear tubing. Slide the other wire into the same tube until the wire ends are about 1/8" apart. Connect that 2nd wire to the plug. You will be able to see the spark as the engine is running. Go for a drive and watch the spark as the engine dies. If the spark quits, it's ignition failure. If the spark is still there, it's fuel.
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Old 12-24-2018, 06:41 PM   #3
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

Condensers have been know to fail with no notice on plenty of occasions. Coils can too but many times they will function while cool then open circuit when warmed up. Check and see if you have voltage at the coil with the ignition switch on. There is a ballast resistor under the dash on most old Fords of that era and it can crap out. Ignition switches can get crusty on the interior contacts over time too.

There are lots of possibilities that have no real cause other than age or questionable quality of parts. If you ever forget and leave the ignition switch on and the ignition points happen to be closed, the coil can fry so keep a close watch for stuff like that. Rebuilt original Ford coils are generally better quality that any of the new reproduction stuff so keep that in mind too. Several guys on the forum rebuild OEM coils with modern materials.
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Old 12-24-2018, 09:30 PM   #4
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

You need to FULLY Charge your battery. Everyone knows you need large battery cables with all tight clean connections. Measure the voltage to the wire on the drivers side of the coil. With the ignition switch on you should have 6 volts when the points are open and about 3.5 to 4 volts when the points are closed. you can tell when they are open or closed by the voltage. Don't leave the switch on over 5 minutes or you can melt the coil. Save yourself a lot of trouble and have Skip rebuild your coil and send a couple condensers so he can hot test them. G.M.
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Old 12-24-2018, 10:16 PM   #5
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

All good advise. Condenser may be your first and easiest to replace. You may have luck at a NAPA store.
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Old 12-24-2018, 10:21 PM   #6
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I would also suspect the coil...............
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Old 12-24-2018, 11:11 PM   #7
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

Thank you for the responses. I’ll check more on this in the morning and let you know. It’s a bit odd to me that a bad condenser would shut the engine down while driving. I’ve taken the helmet like coil caps off of each side and put it back in and closed the wire. Hope I put it back on right.

I’ll do a few tests in the morning and let you know.


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Old 12-25-2018, 09:42 AM   #8
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

Had that happen to me many yrs ago.Coming back from dinner in my '34 Vic the engine quit running cold turkey .Had a spare NOS condenser and the tools with me in the glove box.I switched it out - started right up and made it home .
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Old 12-25-2018, 01:29 PM   #9
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

To give ya’ll an update, I took the condenser out and took a multimeter (positive on hot lead circle part and negative on condenser body and vice versa) to it in the ohm position to measure resistance. Both showed a resistance reading.

However I was not able to get any reading at the threaded end of the condenser. Is it suppose to show a reading? (Here is a picture)


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Old 12-25-2018, 01:44 PM   #10
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

A continuity tester on hi tension coil leade? A condenser or coil is suspect . I always carry a spare . Do you have 6/12 volts to the coil ? If not check your ign switch or wiring .
Don't suspect electrical components are still cold once you've used them , even once . Just because it was good doesn't mean it'll stay good .
You need primary voltage to create secondary . I'm still leaning towards coil or condenser assuming you have voltage going to the coil .
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Old 12-25-2018, 01:46 PM   #11
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

Why would it be odd ? At some point in the parts life they fail , very likely odds are that they fail 50 percent of the time while in use .
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Old 12-25-2018, 03:23 PM   #12
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

To me the first pic the connector that the red lead is on is the ground as it bolts to the dist part that goes to the block so you are just checking the condenser housing to it .The hot is the threaded end.IMO replace the condenser.To check the coil take your leads and put one end to the connection on the coil that the condenser attaches to and the other end to the stud that the wire from the dash connects to.If no reading the circuit is open-should be closed(buzzing sound).

Last edited by deuce lover; 12-25-2018 at 03:30 PM.
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Old 12-25-2018, 03:59 PM   #13
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

You can use a cheap multimeter to check if a capacitor (condenser) is functioning. Set your multimeter to a high ohms scale and hold the leads on the capacitor for a while. The voltage on the leads should put a small charge into the unit. Then reverse the leads on the condenser, and you should see the unit discharge. Any changes in readings show the capacitor is functioning, but does not indicate if it is functioning properly (at it's rated value). If the meter does not change, the capacitor is not functioning. This may not work all of the time with a digital meter. An analog meter is better for this kind of testing. Of course, if you have an expensive meter that has the facility for testing capacitors (most don't), you're home free.

Last edited by tubman; 12-26-2018 at 11:13 AM.
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Old 12-25-2018, 06:01 PM   #14
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

I have had a few condensors fail on me whilst driving, the car just dies and wouldn't start again. I now always carry a spare one with me in the glove box just in case.
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Old 12-25-2018, 06:06 PM   #15
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

Another easy thing to check is the resistor under the dash on the inside of the firewall. Over the years being warm/hot and cold the terminals get loose. Or the resistor burns out and become an "open" in the ignition system.
You've got the condenser out; Buy a new one and install it. In fact, by 2. Again, I have found the best quality condenser's from NAPA. In other words avoid Speedway, Mac's, etc.
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Old 12-25-2018, 06:09 PM   #16
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

I suppose you already checked ignition switch contacts, and plate. They get dirty and need cleaning, and ears bent upwards.
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Old 12-25-2018, 08:43 PM   #17
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

Per your photos, in the first one you are measuring the resistance of the cadmium-plated brass casing and of course you'd get a resistance reading as neither cadmium nor brass are perfect conductors. Your second photo's reading is the one that counts; replace the condenser.
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Old 12-26-2018, 10:56 AM   #18
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

Ok so here is the update: purchased a NAPA FA5 this morning and added a grounding wire to go to the frame. The width of the condenser is smaller than the one I took out. The car still won’t start up.

When you mention “check the coil” what are you referring to. I know the points and individual “coils” that go to each spark plug. I’m still leaning towards no spark. When my brother hits the starter my continuity test at each plug shows nothing.


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Old 12-26-2018, 11:16 AM   #19
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

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Ok so here is the update: purchased a NAPA FA5 this morning and added a grounding wire to go to the frame. The width of the condenser is smaller than the one I took out. The car still won’t start up.

When you mention “check the coil” what are you referring to. I know the points and individual “coils” that go to each spark plug. I’m still leaning towards no spark. When my brother hits the starter my continuity test at each plug shows nothing.


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I think we have a communications problem here. The coil others are referring to is the dome shaped black object on top of the distributor, which is bolted on the front of the engine with 3 bolts. This is usually the case unless a different engine has been installed or the distributor has been converted to use a can coil. I think a picture or two would be in order.
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Old 12-26-2018, 11:27 AM   #20
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

Derrick,
As mentioned before, and this situation occurs often , check the ign
switch on the column drop for failure. Quick shade tree way is to use a jumper wire across the 2 terminals . The switch is a rudimentary design that works till it doesn't.
Adapting the modern condenser goes something like this. The wire or strap soldered to the shell of the modern condenser goes to ground....the pigtail gets connected to the plate that is cast into the end of the condenser hole in the coil.
This plate is what the brass terminal on a genuine condenser 'sees'.
You're getting there,
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Old 12-26-2018, 11:27 AM   #21
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

Send an old condenser to Bubbas Ignition and have him build you a Vertex Mag "lifetime" condenser modified to fit a 34 helmet distributor also send Skip your coil and have him modernized it and your problems will go away.
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Old 12-26-2018, 11:33 AM   #22
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

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Ok so here is the update: purchased a NAPA FA5 this morning and added a grounding wire to go to the frame. The width of the condenser is smaller than the one I took out. The car still won’t start up.

When you mention “check the coil” what are you referring to. I know the points and individual “coils” that go to each spark plug. I’m still leaning towards no spark. When my brother hits the starter my continuity test at each plug shows nothing.


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How can you check continuity at the plug? Hold the plug wire 1/4" from the head and see if you have a spark or use a spark checker.
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Old 12-26-2018, 11:41 AM   #23
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

dbtenner,Is this distributor what you have on your engine?
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Old 12-26-2018, 12:21 PM   #24
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

A condenser is basically a capacitor. You have to have sophisticated test equipment to test one for capacity, leakage, etc. The FA5 is usable but may take some mods to make it fit the old distributor. A person can check it for build of charge and discharge as previously mentioned. If that function is OK and it is installed where it will function with the distributor, it should have spark at a plug high tension lead. If it doesn't, the coil needs to be tested but it also needs sophisticated equipment to properly test it.

You can remotely mount a condenser of the correct capacity range to about any distributor but it has to be connected as shown in wiring diagrams for points ignition distributors. It's usually better if it is grounded as close as possible to the breaker points or coil.
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Old 12-26-2018, 02:08 PM   #25
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

Hi all,

Thank you for help troubleshooting! I appreciate it. Few updates:

I checked the leads on the ignition switch and had a nice healthy spark (also tried to start the engine with both leads connected and still no spark). Also cleaned the connections inside the ignition switch enclosure. So I don't think the issue is here.

Deuce_lover, Yes, that is the exact distributor and coil (black enclosure with a holder for the condenser) I have! I checked the input post on the coil (wired to the cab) with my voltmeter and I'm reading 0.0V both when the ignition switch is open and closed. So I'm thinking the issue might be electrical at the dash.

I also took my ohmmeter and checked the condensers (both my original 18-12300-B and the replacement one I found this morning, FA5 from NAPA) and I could "charge" it with the meter and then switch the leads and read a change in resistance (I have a digital multimeter that actually works now). I understand that this doesn't completely rule out the condenser but I'm thinking that the issue might lie somewhere else. Any input is greatly appreciated, thanks!

One more question: The coil (black enclosure on top of the distributor) doesn't have that many connections (I did take it off just now). It has a holder for the condensor with a screw to connect, a post for a wire coming from the dash, a spring that makes contact with a copper plate inside the distributor, and a metal plunger that makes contact with the rotor inside the distributor. How do I test the coil with this configuration?

Thanks, and happy holidays! I might include photos in a minute!
-Dbtenner
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Old 12-26-2018, 02:14 PM   #26
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Old 12-26-2018, 02:22 PM   #27
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

The photos above: 1) I think the issue might be here under the dash because I'm not reading any voltage at the screw post on the coil when the ignition switch is closed. Is the white cylinder inside the metal holder the resistor? I can check its resistance in a bit.

2) Here is the coil on top of the distributor. You see my feeble attempt at grounding the FA5 condenser with a wire in the background.

Thank you guys for all your help. I really appreciate it!
-dbtenner
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Old 12-26-2018, 02:23 PM   #28
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

You have a wrong style condenser,,,, The bad connection to the condenser you have is glaring....
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Old 12-26-2018, 02:30 PM   #29
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

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Hi all,

Thank you for help troubleshooting! I appreciate it. Few updates:

I checked the leads on the ignition switch and had a nice healthy spark (also tried to start the engine with both leads connected and still no spark). Also cleaned the connections inside the ignition switch enclosure. So I don't think the issue is here.

Deuce_lover, Yes, that is the exact distributor and coil (black enclosure with a holder for the condenser) I have! I checked the input post on the coil (wired to the cab) with my voltmeter and I'm reading 0.0V both when the ignition switch is open and closed. So I'm thinking the issue might be electrical at the dash.

I also took my ohmmeter and checked the condensers (both my original 18-12300-B and the replacement one I found this morning, FA5 from NAPA) and I could "charge" it with the meter and then switch the leads and read a change in resistance (I have a digital multimeter that actually works now). I understand that this doesn't completely rule out the condenser but I'm thinking that the issue might lie somewhere else. Any input is greatly appreciated, thanks!

One more question: The coil (black enclosure on top of the distributor) doesn't have that many connections (I did take it off just now). It has a holder for the condensor with a screw to connect, a post for a wire coming from the dash, a spring that makes contact with a copper plate inside the distributor, and a metal plunger that makes contact with the rotor inside the distributor. How do I test the coil with this configuration?

Thanks, and happy holidays! I might include photos in a minute!
-Dbtenner

On my first pic you see the the terminal(post) with the round nut and the screw that attaches the condenser to the coil. For a basic test to check for continuity ,Take your tester and put one on that terminal and the other in where that screw is(if screw is out there is a metal terminal that the condenser butts up to).You should get a reading and if so it means that it is closed (current thru the windings and out)so coil should initially work.Going to the copper spring type coil (under and carbon brush) will not tell you anything.
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Old 12-26-2018, 02:41 PM   #30
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Old 12-26-2018, 02:57 PM   #31
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

I think you just need to start tracing our your system. Do you have power to the ignition switch, power out of the switch, power to the resistor, power out of the resistor. power to the coil.
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Old 12-26-2018, 03:18 PM   #32
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

That white cylindrical item with two red wires connected in post 26 photo 1 is the ballast resistor. They are a wire wound around a high temp insulator. It should have power in from the ignition switch and power out to the coil. These little jewels are still around NOS in case it no longer passes current. The reproduction ones are crap.

The one side of the breaker points and condenser are grounded to the distributor housing so all it needs to power it up is the wire from the ballast resistor under the dash. The Ford/Mallory design is about as simple as they get but it is a way lot different than one from say a 65 Mustang. Works the same basic way in theory.
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Old 12-26-2018, 03:41 PM   #33
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

Why not run a jumper wire from a known good voltage source (starter solenoid?) to the coil terminal and try to start it. That should isolate it to either the primary or secondary side. Don't leave it on too long or you could damage your points and/ot coil. (If it starts or even fires, it's the primary side. If it does nothing, it would be the secondary side. In this case the primary could be bad also.)
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Old 12-26-2018, 03:49 PM   #34
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

I had a similar problem last summer. I was getting intermittent power to the coil. The problem turned out to be a broken wire from the resister to the coil. I replaced the wire and the problem was solved.
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Old 12-26-2018, 04:37 PM   #35
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

Once you find your problem and have the engine running may I suggest you find a Ford coil as shown in deuce lover photos and have it rebuilt by Skip or send your entire distributor, coil and condenser to Skip or Bubba for rebuild. Remove the resistor under the dash and turn it around so heat generated by the resistor does not fry the wires to the resistor. Clean all the hardware and connection points used to mount the resistor before reinstalling. These simple projects should keep the ignition system in better working shape. A 6 volt ignition system does not work well with loose, rusted and corroded hardware.
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Old 12-26-2018, 04:58 PM   #36
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

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The image of the fuse block is not original to a 34, that is a later model panel out of something like a 40. The original fuse block would have a fuse, the one posted is a circuit breaker, as used on the later models.

The first photo I attached is similar to what would have been in the car originally. The second post is a later single circuit breaker panel (with the ballast resistor turned the correct way).

You are dealing with a mix match set of components, which should work fine, but it will not match up visually with the original parts.


Is the starter solenoid floor mounted with foot operated switch on it or a firewall mounted which uses a pushbutton on the dash?
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Old 12-26-2018, 05:15 PM   #37
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

Hi all,

Thank you for the suggestions! I appreciate them. Quick update: I spoke to deuce_lover on the phone and we did some troubleshooting. The ignition switch is functioning properly AND I am seeing 3.5V at the coil. I tested the coil for continuity and it is closed, so it's fine. The condenser is the wrong type (A-12300-SP, for 1928-1931, same as the FA5 from NAPA), BUT I improved the grounding to the engine block (using a jerry-rigged screwdriver instead of the thin copper wire) AND THE CAR STARTED AND RAN! When I removed the grounding screwdriver, the car promptly died. So, as many of y'all suggested (thank you!), I do believe the issue is the condenser. Now I'm looking all over for a NOS proper 18-12300-B condenser, but I don't think they're made anymore... In the mean time, I'm going to try and twist the ground connector on the wrong capacitor and drill the hole larger so I can fasten the ground to the engine block. Any suggestions are appreciated! If the old 18-12300-B condenser isn't being produced anymore, is there another that you guys use/recommend?

Thanks! And thank you deuce_lover for trouble-shooting!
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Old 12-26-2018, 05:24 PM   #38
Charlie ny
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

Condenser is on the way.
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Old 12-26-2018, 06:11 PM   #39
dbtenner
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

Thanks Charlie! I appreciate this community here.



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Old 12-26-2018, 06:33 PM   #40
tubman
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

Good! Glad to hear you got it going. "All's well that ends well".
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Old 10-26-2020, 06:53 PM   #41
al's28/33
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Default Re: 1934 Spark/ Ignition Issue

Great post, I think I may be having condenser issues on my '33 …. trying to trace thru the electrical system now.....
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